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Comic Review: Ms. Marvel #1

Ms. Marvel Kamala Khan All-New Marvel NOW!

If Ms. Marvel #1 is anything, it’s brave.

And that bravery may win it a lot of fans. Or turn off a lot of would-be readers.

Can you handle the challenge?

Writer G. Willow Wilson doesn’t pull any punches in this slow-burn intro for her Jersey-born, Muslim-raised teenager Kamala Khan, the soon-to-be heir to the Ms. Marvel title.

Wilson resists the temptation to dive right in and tell Kamala’s full story in one issue, and instead takes the time to establish what drives her main character. Kamala is, unapologetically, a devout Muslim teen, torn between sticking to her religious traditions and her desire to be like everyone else her age. She’s got the outsider’s mentality, even before she becomes a superhero. “Everybody else gets to be normal,” she says. “Why can’t I?”

And this book is anything but ‘normal’ as far as comics go. Kamala doesn’t get whitewashed or sanitized; her family uses Urdu words, she holds to traditions others don’t understand, and she comes up against some pretty blatant racism from other kids her age. These elements can make the comic uncomfortable and alienating at times, especially when played alongside Kamala’s naiveté and bright-eyed desire to fit in.

But at her core, Kamalah is like any teenager: she just wants the approval of her peers and her parents. She’s also a kid who loves heroes, and Captain Marvel is her fav, as you can tell by her omnipresent yellow lightning bolt hoodie. Busting through all the surface differences to see the relatable elements is a bit of a challenge here, but it makes her more interesting, too.

The story is pretty simple. Kamala disobeys her very traditional parents to sneak out and go to beach party where people are drinking, only to leave when they try to force a drink on her. On her way back home, filled with regret for disobeying her parents, Kamala is overcome by a city-wide fog that knocks her out.

And that’s where things get odd: artist Adrian Alphona draws a strange stained glass religious-looking sequence with an angelic Captain Marvel flanked by a meditative Iron Man and a serene Captain America. They speak to Kamala in Urdu and are generally pretty confusing, but they also let Kamala voice some of her root concerns about her culture and her place in the world. On top of that, she talks about her admiration for Captain Marvel and says if she were Cap, she would stick with the classic Ms. Marvel costume. A

Then things get odder: the final pages awaken Kamala from this fog-induced slumber to find herself in a coccoon. When she bursts out, she’s shapeshifted into Ms. Marvel, from the black boots and uniform to the long blonde hair and light skin. It’s likely the first manifestation of her shapeshifting abilities, but that’s not made clear. Essentially, the last page leaves you unsure what Kamala’s powers are, other than the ability to change into a white chick.

In terms of No. 1 issue expectations, Ms. Marvel #1 is heavy on the character but light as a feather on the powers. We have no sense of what Kamala can do or why she can do it, and we have no sense for what she’ll be like as a superhero. All we know is she likes the Avengers; where that goes from here is unclear.

But we do know there’s a solid artist on this series. Adrian Alphona’s work is slightly cartoony but good with the closeups. He’s apt to cut details on the wider shots (look for characters with just dot eyes and a line for a mouth when the shots are wide) but he can handle facial expressions nicely, too. The guy has pencilled Uncanny X-Force and Brian K. Vaughn’s Runaways, so he knows his way around, and while there’s nothing her to knock your socks off visually, he does a good job serving a script-heavy story.

And that script. It’s packed with unfamiliar words, so prepare to feel a little put-out if you don’t know Urdu. You’ll feel like an outsider, and maybe that’s part of the effect Wilson is going for.

On the whole, Ms. Marvel #1 is unflinching in its portrayal of a Muslim girl destined to become a superhero. There’s plenty to draw you in and plenty to alienate you. If you want a challenging read, this is for you.

8 out of 10

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  1. February 5, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    I *loved* this book.

    • February 5, 2014 at 10:09 pm

      It’s great to see Marvel trying something new. They’ve had success with pure “fun” books like Hawkeye and Captain Marvel, but this shows they can be awesome at more real world approaches too.

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